Have you ever wondered about the small, hard to find animals that live in the forested areas around Sligo Creek? Would you believe me if I told you that in addition to the eastern gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) that we see all the time, southern flying squirrels (Glaucomys volans) likely inhabit the trees surrounding Sligo Creek?
Southern flying squirrels are actually pretty cool little mammals. They are the smallest of all Maryland tree squirrels (8.5-10 inches long) and nocturnal, or active at night, which is why they are so difficult to observe. They mainly eat seeds and nuts and require mast-producing hardwood trees, such as oaks and hickories. I’ve been told that while eastern gray squirrels eat nuts by breaking them, southern flying squirrels make smooth, oval holes in the tops of acorns and other nuts.
It’s a myth that southern flying squirrels fly like birds or bats. Instead, a southern flying squirrel glides from tree to tree with a special furry flap of skin connecting the wrist of each front leg to the ankle of each rear leg called a patagium, and uses its flat tail to brake.
Southern flying squirrels usually nest and raise young in tree cavities. Sometimes people find them in nest boxes designed for cavity-nesting birds; if this happens to you, consider yourself lucky and let them be. (Check out this website for nest box info: http://www.sialis.org/flyingsquirrel.htm).
Some of your neighbors have seen southern flying squirrels in the Sligo Creek Parks and a few Brookside Nature Center naturalists have been lucky enough to observe these nocturnal, secretive, little guys gliding at dusk in Wheaton Regional Park. If you have observed a southern flying squirrel in the Sligo Creek parks or Wheaton Regional Park, please let us know by responding to this article. If you remember the time of year and/or location or have a photo to share, even better! In addition, you can report Sligo Creek sightings on the Friends of Sligo Creek (FoSC)’s “Sightings on Sligo Creek” website: http://www.fosc.org/sightings.htm. It would be excellent to add some southern flying squirrel observations to the FoSC website!
Are you still curious about southern flying squirrels? You can learn more on the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Wildlife and Heritage Service website: http://www.dnr.state.md.us/wildlife/Plants_Wildlife/So_Flying_Squirrel.asp or the Maryland Cooperative Extension Fact Sheet: ttp://extension.umd.edu/publications/pdfs/fs607.pdf .
In addition, the Brookside Nature Center in Wheaton Regional Park sometimes offers educational programs about southern flying squirrels. These programs are scheduled at dusk, when visitors may catch a glimpse of southern flying squirrels gliding from tree to tree.
Corinne Lackner Stephens is a member of the FoSC Stormwater Committee and the Certification Manager/Biologist for the Wildlife Habitat Council in Silver Spring, MD.